The decision to attend law school is an important one: one that may involve up to six figures of student loan debt. Despite the recession, many prospective law students entered law school under the false presumption that they would be able repay those loans after attaining employment upon graduation. But when law schools publish deceptive employment statistics, prospective and current law students may be basing their future livelihoods upon unreliable information.
As another academic year draws to a close, many soon-to-be and recent law school graduates have been left holding the bag as far as employment prospects are concerned. Law School Transparency, however, hopes to promote greater accuracy in law school employment data.
What Is Law School Transparency?
Law School Transparency (LST) is a Tennessee non-profit organization that was co-founded by two Vanderbilt law students in July 2009. Since that time, LST’s Policy Director, Patrick Lynch, has graduated and become a New York licensed attorney. LST’s Executive Director, Kyle McEntee, graduated from law school this month. LST believes that both prospective and current law students are entitled to more reliable information in order to determine the potential return on their investment in a law degree. Lynch and McEntee both hold the title of Above the Law’s 2010 Lawyer of the Year for their work with LST.
LST’s mission to promote and ensure accurate and transparent employment reporting by law schools is so important that it has been taken up by a United States Senator. In March 2011, Senator Barbara Boxer wrote to the President of the American Bar Association and implored him to improve standards and accountability for post-graduate employment information. Such improvements, Senator Boxer wrote, are needed in order to keep both prospective and current law students from relying upon information “which may be false at worst and misleading at best” in their decision to pursue a law degree.
What Is LST Doing to Change Employment Reporting Requirements?
In July 2010, LST contacted the administrators of 199 law schools and requested that they release more meaningful employment information, now known as the LST Standard. Under the LST Standard, law schools would be required to release both a job list and a salary list. Unfortunately, only 11 schools responded to LST’s request, each providing their own excuse as to why they would not be able to comply with the LST Standard. Although Ave Maria School of Law initially agreed to comply with the LST Standard, in February 2011, the school withdrew its commitment to provide enhanced employment data disclosure.
Lynch, however, believes that LST’s work with the ABA may be of some assistance in the quest for reform:
From the beginning we saw some strong indications that the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar were the ones who would have to implement the new standard. So, our current work is focused on making sure the ABA incorporates some of the most important elements of the LST Standard into its new disclosure requirements, including the more timely release of data and making sure it’s disaggregated to prevent schools from hiding outcomes. Depending on what the ABA ultimately decides to do, we will then revisit whether we should pursue a heightened disclosure standard that matches or perhaps goes beyond what we originally envisioned in the LST Standard.
In terms of LST’s goal to speed up the data release process, as it stands, it takes approximately two years after a class of law students has graduated for employment data to be released to the public. To put this in perspective, although law school career services offices have employment information for the class of 2010 available at their fingertips, students entering the class of 2014 are being forced to rely upon employment data for the class of 2009.
In an effort to improve the way that employment statistics are reported, LST has been working with both the ABA and the National Association for Legal Career Professionals (NALP) to expedite the reporting process. With regard to progress made in obtaining employment information for the class of 2010, Lynch stated:
Unfortunately, any changes to the ABA reporting requirements likely won’t take effect until next year (concerning Class of 2011 information). In the meantime, what we’re doing is trying to publicize the fact that career services offices have the Class of 2010 information at their fingertips. Prospective law students should be using their acceptances as leverage to request specific information on the Class of 2010.
Some schools are already disclosing some information, but they’re being highly selective in what they disclose, and that can easily skew how an applicant sees the job market. LST plans to begin reporting soon on schools that are releasing Class of 2010 information, and we will continue calling for schools to come forward with better data. We’ll also be critiquing the available information for clarity and utility, which means trying to dispel some of the assumptions we know applicants tend to make in looking at the data.
What Can You Do to Help LST Meet Its Goal?
If you are a prospective or current law student, or even a recent law school graduate, you may be wondering what you can do to help LST achieve its lofty and noble goal. While prospective students may be able to leverage their acceptances against the receipt of additional employment information, current law students may be able to get involved with their Student Bar Association to attempt to make change internally. Because law schools love to solicit funds from their alumni, recent law school graduates may still be able to encourage reform with conditional monetary donations. In addition, Lynch suggested several ways to become involved with LST:
Current students have a direct line to the administration at their law school. A great way to start would be petitioning the school to disclose more employment information for applicants and to review how the admissions office portrays employment information. We understand graduating students are busy planning out their futures right now, whether that means job hunting or getting ready to study for the bar, but they are also acutely aware of whether their current job prospects look like what was advertised back when they made the decision to attend.
Students and recent graduates are also encouraged to contact the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar and express their support for meaningful reforms. To that end, we provide information on our website about the Committees in charge of proposing reforms within the Section (which operates independently from the ABA). Student governance leaders are in a great position to do this, but we really need as many voices as possible speaking on behalf of current and future law students.
It’s Time for Law Schools to Stop Gaming the System (and Our Lives)
Should a law school be able to claim that a graduate is employed if that graduate is bartending? What if a graduate is working in the legal field, but only performing glorified secretarial tasks? In a world where graduates from the law school class of 2010 (and, in truth, perhaps even the class of 2009) remain woefully under-employed, or worse yet, unemployed, these important questions need to be answered more accurately so that law school can stop being perceived as a “losing game.”
For years, law schools have skewed their employment data in order to achieve more impressive scores in the U.S. News and World Report rankings. Instead, law schools should strive to impress their most important constituents, their prospective, current, and former students, as opposed to trying to game the rankings system. Lynch encourages direct contact with LST as a way to become more involved:
As always, anyone with ideas about how we can improve what we’re doing is encouraged to contact us directly and let us know. We are a small (but dedicated) group of staffers and advisory board members, so we always welcome input from other interested parties.
Change is needed in the realm of law school employment reporting standards, and in the years to come, LST may be the group responsible for bringing about that change.